Lord Kek Commands!
James J. O'Meara
A Look at the Origins of Meme Magic
At Your Command: The First Classic Work by the Visionary Mystic Neville
New York: Snellgrove Publications, 1939; Tarcher Cornerstone Editions, 2016 (includes Mitch Horowitz’s essay on Neville’s life and work, “Neville Goddard: A Cosmic Philosopher”)
“Can a man decree a thing and have it come to pass? Most assuredly he can!” — Neville Goddard, At Your Command
“Trump’s assault on truth and logic, far from hurting him, made him stronger” — Time, “Man of the Year” cover story.
Stantz: “I tried to think of the most harmless thing. Something I loved from my childhood. Something that could never ever possibly destroy us. Mr. Stay Puft!”
Venkman: “Nice thinkin’, Ray.” — Ghostbusters (1984)
Readers are no doubt aware that even in these days of e-this and i-that, it can take at least a year or two to get a book from neat idea to bookstore shelves. So even though Mitch Horowitz is the editor at Tarcher/Penguin, it’s not likely he planned to have this special edition of the first book (booklet, really) by 20th century New Thought lecturer Neville Goddard out in time for the Trump victory.
And yet, it’s almost eerily appropriate.
There are almost as many explanations for Trump’s victory as there are dumbfounded commentators. Relatively little exploration of the role of the teachings of Trump’s religious mentor, Norman Vincent Peale, has appeared, although his role in Trump’s Weltanschauung would seem to be far more significant than, say, the influence of Jerimiah Wright on Barack Obama.
The possible role of Peale in the Trump ascendancy was explored in my essay “The Secret of Trump’s A Peale: Traditionalism Triumphant! Or: He’s Our Evola, Only Better,” here, where it was suggested that Peale’s “positive thinking” was what enabled him to ignore “what everyone knows” (e.g., Trump is a buffoon who will drop out after losing a couple primaries) and instead concentrate on remaking the future “in accordance with Will” (Crowley); in other words, “meme magick.”
The key to that idea was to see Peale’s ideas against the background of the more explicitly “magical” work of Neville Goddard. The relation between Peale and Neville, as far as I can tell, been never been determined or even studied at all.
In typically perverse fashion, I came to read the still well-known Peale after encountering the still hush-hush Neville. On that basis, I would say that Peale, always the subject of suspicion and mockery by the elites, does give the impression of retailing the common ideas of New Thought in a form that bourgeois Protestants would find comfortable; proper and respectable, without either alarming secularism or the mysticism of those dirty Catholic immigrants.
While Peale is happy to throw around scripture quotes like any Congregationalist preacher would, Neville, on the other hand, is like one of those rabble-rousers like Blake who insist right from the start that there is no legitimate church hierarchy, nor any “history” in the Bible, which is rather a purely psychological document, whose hitherto secret meaning he will now disclose.
In any event, that brings us to the book at hand: this is Neville’s first attempt to present to the reading public his unique — yet entirely traditional — take on the power of imagination; what he ingenuously called “a simple method for changing the future,” a kind of dream yoga, as he explained in a later work:
Preparing to sleep, you feel yourself into the state of the answered wish, and then relax into unconsciousness. . . . This is the way to discover and conduct your wishes into the subconscious. Feel yourself in the state of the realized wish and quietly drop off to sleep.
Night after night you should assume the feeling of being, having and witnessing that which you seek to be, possess and see manifested. Never go to sleep feeling discouraged or dissatisfied. Never sleep in the consciousness of failure. Your subconscious, whose natural state is sleep, sees you as you believe yourself to be, and whether it be good, bad, or indifferent, the subconscious will faithfully embody your belief. As you feel so do you impress her; and she, the perfect lover, gives form to these impressions and out-pictures them as the children of her beloved. “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee,” is the attitude of mind to adopt before dropping off to sleep. Disregard appearances and feel that things are as you wish them to be, for “He calleth things that are not seen as though they were, and the unseen becomes seen.” To assume the feeling of satisfaction is to call conditions into being which will mirror satisfaction. “Signs follow, they do not precede.” Proof that you are will follow the consciousness that you are; it will not precede it.
Of course, this short booklet has been available for decades, and is now online everywhere. Why then this edition? Well, because it benefits from an afterword in the form of TarcherPerigree editor Mitch Horowitz, consisting of his essay “Neville Goddard: A Cosmic Philosopher,” which delves into many of the questions aroused by this little book: biographical, historical, scientific and metaphysical.
Horowitz summarizes Neville’s “spiritual vision that was bold and total” though also “what many would find fantastical”:
Everything you see and experience, including other people, is the result of your own thoughts and emotional states. Each of us dreams into existence an infinitude of realities and outcomes. When you realize this, Neville taught, you will discover yourself to be a slumbering branch of the Creator clothed in human form, and at the helm of limitless possibilities.
Horowitz rehearses the facts of Neville’s biography and his “extravagant claims” to have changed the course of reality by mental visualization, but what’s uniquely valuable here is that he’s done yeoman’s work to actually track down what Jor-el might call “their basis in actual fact.”
For example, in the post-Pearl Harbor panic, Neville — despite being 38 years old, married, with a son already in the Navy, and a British subject — was drafted into the Army “for the duration of the conflict” as they used to say (endless wars already being contemplated). Quickly deciding this was no life for him, but his request for a discharge being denied, he began to spend his nights visualizing his life as it would be if he were still in his apartment off Washington Square in Manhattan; within a few weeks, he was honorably discharged, in order to, as Army records show, “accept employment in an essential wartime industry.”
The exact reasons for this are unknown, since according to the Army “Mr. Goddard’s records were destroyed in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center.” However, something mysterious must have been going on, since the “essential wartime industry” was: delivering metaphysical lectures in Greenwich Village.
One result of his servitude, however brief and unsought, was that Neville was awarded US citizenship. Yes, Neville was the original DREAMer!
But the real prize here is that Horowitz has amassed considerable evidence from public records in an attempt to document the probable identity of “Abdullah,” the “black Ethiopian rabbi” with whom Neville claimed to have studied Hebrew, the Bible, and the Qabalah. Horowitz has noticed that another immigrant New Thought teacher, Joseph Murphy, has recently described his own encounter with a “professor Abdullah, a Jewish man of black ancestry, a native of Israel, who knew, in every detail, all the symbolism of each of the verses of the Old and the New Testaments.”
A check of historical accounts, census records and real estate listings reveals “a plausible candidate”:
He is found in the figure of a 1920s and 30s-era black-nationalist mystic named Arnold Josiah Ford. Like Neville, Ford was born in Barbados, in 1877, the son of an itinerant preacher. Ford arrived in Harlem around 1910 and established himself as a leading voice in the Ethiopianism movement, a precursor to Jamaican Rastafarianism.
Ford’s Ethiopianism also taught “mental metaphysics” and mind healing, as did another movement Ford belonged to, black nationalist Marcus Garvey’s Negro Improvement Association.
Yes, Trump’s meme magic, from Peale to Neville to Abdullah, is perhaps ultimately rooted in the black nationalist movement of the 1920s.
Unfortunately for the theory, as Horowitz admits, Abdullah left New York in 1931, responding to Haile Selassie’s offer of land grants in rural Ethiopia for returnees from the black diaspora. This is a period “sparse of records,” but ultimately “Ford died in Ethiopia in September 1935, a few weeks before Mussolini’s troops crossed the border.”
Since Neville claims to have met “Abdullah” in 1931 and then studied under him in New York for 5 years, it seems Ford can’t be “Abdullah,” although the latter may simply have been a handy “composite of several contemporaneous figures, perhaps including Ford.”
Indeed, I would suggest that what Neville learned from Ford was the Hermetic tradition, and that the “Abdullah” character was an instance of a long-standing meme in which “ancient wisdom” is attributed to one or another exotic though conquered people.
Evola gives a historical dimension to this meme when he points out that the hermetic tradition was preserved from Christian heresy-hunters in the West only by being hidden among the Jews in the form of the Qabalah, re-emerging after the Renaissance. Neville combines both motifs by attributing his initiation to a black rabbi.
But by now the reader of Neville, or of this book, or of this review, is likely saying “Come on, this stuff isn’t real. Next you’ll be telling me you can get a guy elected President by posting some frog cartoons on the Internet.”
Horowitz addresses this concern as well, and brings in Quantum Physics.
In essence, more than eighty years of laboratory experiments show that atomic-scale particles appear in a given place only when a measurement is made. Quantum theory holds that no measurement means no precise and localized object, at least on the atomic scale.
In a challenge to our deepest conceptions of reality, quantum data shows that a subatomic particle literally occupies an infinite number of places (a state called “superposition”) until observation manifests it in one place. In quantum mechanics, an observer’s conscious decision to look or not look actually determines what will be there.
To this, Horowitz adds:
Neville likewise taught that the mind creates multiple and coexistent realities. Everything already exists in potential, he said, and through our thoughts and feelings we select which outcome we ultimately experience. Indeed, Neville saw man as some quantum theorists see the observer taking measurements in the particle lab, effectively determining where a subatomic particle will actually appear as a localized object. Moreover, Neville wrote that everything and everyone that we experience is rooted in us, as we are ultimately rooted in God. Man exists in an infinite cosmic interweaving of endless dreams of reality — until the ultimate realization of one’s identity as Christ.
In an almost prophetic observation in 1948, he told listeners: “Scientists will one day explain why there is a serial universe. But in practice, how you use this serial universe to change the future is more important.” More than any other spiritual teacher, Neville created a mystical correlate to quantum physics.
Now, this is common enough in the “New Age” world, but analogies from QM tend to make me break out in hives. Like the apocryphal physicist who began to wear bunny slippers so as not to slip through the space between the atoms in the floor, I suspect the analogy is faulty; whatever happens on the quantum plane, things are fairly solid and deterministic up here, and visualization can’t really cause millions of voters to pull the Trump lever. Or maybe it can; I just don’t know.
But for now, perhaps we can get some advice from Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist who has recently transformed himself into a pro-Trump blogger, offering political analysis based on his studies of hypnosis.
In between these activities, he published a book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, which may offer some assistance here. Adams points out that while we may not seem to control our physical surroundings, we do control our attitudes, which in turn can make it more likely we will have the enthusiasm and confidence to achieve our goals, thus, in effect, changing the future.
If you could control your attitude directly, as opposed to letting the environment dictate how you feel on any given day, it would be like a minor superpower.
The best way to manage your attitude is by understanding your basic nature as a moist robot that can be programmed for happiness if you understand the user interface.
A simple trick you might try involves increasing your ratio of happy thoughts to disturbing thoughts.
Your body and your mind will respond automatically to whatever images you spend the most time pondering.
Imagination is the interface to your attitude. You can literally imagine yourself to higher levels of energy.
My imagined future acts as a cue to keep my mood elevated today.
Don’t worry if your idea is a long shot. That’s not what matters right now. Today you want to daydream of your idea being a huge success so you can enjoy the feeling. Let your ideas for the future fuel your energy today. No matter what you want to do in life, higher energy will help you get there.
As you can see, many of Neville’s key words and concept recur here; “imagination is the interface to your attitude” even sounds like something Neville might say if he were lecturing in the post-PC world of today.
One of the things that holds us back the most, however, is our ideas about “what’s real” and this is where Adams circles back to our last point. Rather than taking Horowitz’s path of outsourcing the problem to QM, Adams addresses it directly:
Reality is overrated and impossible to understand with any degree of certainty. What you do know for sure is that some ways of looking at the world work better than others. Pick the way that works best for you.
Reality might be fixed and objective, at least according to most scientists. But how we think of our reality is clearly subject to regular changes.
The external reality doesn’t change, but your point of view does. In many cases, it’s your point of view that influences your behavior, not the universe. And you can control your point of view even when you can’t change the underlying reality.
You shouldn’t hesitate to modify your perceptions to whatever makes you happy, because you’re probably wrong about the underlying nature of reality anyway.
Ironically, it’s not reality itself (which is impossible to contact directly anyway) but our ideas about it, that stand in the way of imagining what we want. And in particular, one big idea: the egotistical idea that we have, in fact, figured out reality.
Every generation before us believed . . . that it had things figured out. We now know that every generation before us was wrong about a lot of it.
This is another case where humility is your friend.
When you can release on your ego long enough to view your perceptions as incomplete or misleading, it gives you the freedom to imagine new and potentially more useful ways of looking at the world.
I can’t see the future, so I have the option of imagining it in whatever way gives me the greatest utility.
He also emphasizes that success in one or two areas tends to lead to more success in the future. Could this also be a factor? Trump is phenomenally successful in business and entertainment, while Hillary, despite her MSM-vaunted “experience” and resume, must have known herself that she was grossly incompetent. She might have run under the same slogan used to promote Richard Burton’s legendary mega-bomb, The Medusa Touch: “The [Wo]man who can create catastrophe!”
Adams’ talk of imagination and feeling (both are key terms for Neville) as well as enthusiasm bring us back to another criticism Horowitz addresses.
In a little-known book from 1946 [The Romance of Metaphysics], the occult philosopher Israel Regardie [Aleister Crowley’s private secretary] took measure of the burgeoning creative-mind movements, including Unity, Christian Science, and Science of Mind. Regardie paid special attention to the case of Neville, whose teaching, he felt, reflected both the hopes and pitfalls of New Thought philosophy. Regardie believed that Neville possessed profound and truthful ideas; yet he felt these ideas were proffered without sufficient attention to training or practice. Could the everyday person really control his thoughts and moods in the way Neville prescribed?
Neville offered his listeners and readers simple meditative techniques, such as using the practice of visualization before going to sleep, or the repeat reenactment of a small, idealized imaginal drama symbolizing one’s success, like receiving an award or a congratulatory handshake. But Regardie reasoned that, as a dancer and actor, Neville possessed a unique control over his mind and body which his audience did not share.
This is an important point, and also the clue to answering a lesser but more pressing issue: if meme magic works, why didn’t it work for Hillary & Co.? After all, there’s as many if not more of them than us. The answer lies in their divided attention.
Scott Adams advises to ignore “the news,” especially depressing news; but even generally:
I don’t read the news to find truth, as that would be a foolish waste of time.
Trump’s supporters are the most likely group to ignore or despise the MSM. Hillary’s supporters, with their complete control of the MSM echo-chamber, ironically sabotaged their own cause. Their minds were filled with not just images of the wondrous utopia Hillary would bring forth, but also with horrifying visions of the nightmare of Trump’s victory. They effectively supplemented the Trump side’s visualizations.
As Adams remarked after the election:
As I often tell you, we all live in our own movies inside our heads. Humans did not evolve with the capability to understand their reality because it was not important to survival. Any illusion that keeps us alive long enough to procreate is good enough.
That’s why the protestors live in a movie in which they are fighting against a monster called Trump and you live in a movie where you got the president you wanted for the changes you prefer. Same planet, different realities.
As Gavin MacInnes writes:
These people are not living among real Americans, and their theories about how everyone else should live are not rooted in fact. They are floating in a magical never-never land and then scolding us when we say it isn’t real. This is why they are currently experiencing a national meltdown. They never considered it wasn’t real. Well, dreamtime is over, kiddies. It’s time to wake up and go to work.
Ironically as well, despite the PC-hoopla occasioned by the failed remake of Ghostbusters, it seems that the original film is the best clue to what happened, as Steve Sailer notes that
President Trump is like the emergence of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man as The Destroyer at the end of Ghostbusters, except [instead of] one guy conjuring up the thought in his head, most of our cultural elite has been dreaming/dreading/exploiting the fear of the Coming of the Blond Beast for decades to justify their domination of power and thought. The counter-revolution . . . has triumphed.
Be careful what you dream of.
To understand the Trump counter-revolution, you need to read this book, preferably in this edition, beautifully produced like all of the Cornerstone editions, and amplified with Mitch Horowitz’s deep historical research and apt philosophical reflections. You will learn that
You have become so enmeshed in the belief that you are man that you have forgotten the glorious being that you are. Now with your memory restored DECREE the unseen to appear and it SHALL appear, for all things are compelled to respond to the Voice of God, your awareness of being — the world is AT YOUR COMMAND!
1. “Born to an English family in Barbados, Neville Goddard (1905–1972) moved to New York City at age seventeen to study theater. In 1932, he abandoned his work as a dancer and actor to fully devote himself to his career as a metaphysical writer and lecturer. Using the solitary penname Neville, he became one of the twentieth century’s most original and charismatic purveyors of the philosophy generally called New Thought. The awakened human imagination, Neville argued, is the God of Scripture, and each man and woman is a slumbering Christ awaiting resurrection. Neville wrote more than ten books and was a popular speaker on metaphysical themes from the late 1930s until his death. Possessed of a self-educated and eclectic intellect, Neville exerted an influence on a wide range of spiritual thinkers and writers, from Joseph Murphy to Carlos Castaneda. The impact of his ideas continues to be felt in some of today’s bestselling works of practical spirituality.” Publisher’s website, here.
2. According to the Amazon listing, it was released exactly on November 8, 2016 (the first day of Trump Year Zero).
3. See Charles Hugh Smith, “Six Narratives on the Ascendancy of Trump,” here.
4. See the excellent video compilation “When People Laughed At The Idea Of Trump Actually Being Elected President!” here.
5. “I find the teaching of Paul appealing, and the teaching of Peale appalling,” sneered Adlai Stevenson, the original “egghead,” before going down to humiliating, Clintonesque defeat before the amiable duffer Eisenhower. It seems likely to me he had never read either, of course.
6. There are plenty of accounts of New Thought online but you might do well to read Mitch Horowitz’s skeptical but enthusiastic One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life (Crown, 2014).
7. In particular, Positive Imaging: The Powerful Way to Change Your Life (1981) strikes me, from the title onward, as a fairly blatant attempt to ret-con his “power of positive thinking” system into something very much like Neville.
8. On that basis, I recently tried to interest a troubled young woman of my acquaintance with Peale’s work, as a substitute for recommending Neville, thinking that his churchiness would appeal (!) to her, since she still retained from childhood a love of the Episcopal church and its rituals. She handed the book back with some disgust: “No, he was satirized by Tom Lehrer.” Those who doubt the power of cultural artifacts to control minds should reflect on the lingering power of one line in a satirical song from 50 years ago; “the most potent weapons known to mankind are satire and ridicule” — Saul Alinsky. See Lawrence Murray, “Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals,” here.
10. “While Neville could quote from Scripture with photographic ease, one is left with the impression that he sometimes strained to fit all of it within a psychological formula.” See Mitch Horowitz, “The Substance of Things Hoped For: Searching for Neville Goddard,” online here.
11. Feeling is the Secret (1944); online here. For more on Goddard, see my essay “Magick for Housewives: The Not-So New and Really Rather Traditional Thought of Neville Goddard” in the forthcoming 4th volume of Aristokratia. If you can’t wait for that, consider my kindle version of Feeling is the Secret where I contribute an Afterword on Goddard and the Hermetic and Magical traditions.
12. Here, for instance.
13. Lehrer’s aforementioned satirical reference to Peale — “Now Fred’s an intellectual, brings a book to every meal. He likes the deep philosophers, like Norman Vincent Peale” — is from a song satirizing the pretensions of various men in his Army barracks; did the story of Neville’s escape survive here in some twisted form, like one of the Gospel pericopae?
14. Many earlier New Thought writers adopted such pseudonyms as Swami Pachandasi or Yogi Ramacharaka (both William Walker Atkinson). We see another form of this today in “Magic Negro” who instructs clueless White consumers about insurance or banking in many commercials.
15. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams (Portfolio, 2014).
16. Or really, a pretty major one, compared to which Batman’s skill set and even Superman are small beer. See my review of the Green Lantern movie, reprinted as the title essay of my Green Nazis in Space! (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2016), which also explores the Hermetic background of the Green Lantern’s backstory.
17. This is a version of what I believe Norman Malcolm called the Paradox of Induction: science is based on the principle of induction — the future will with some degree of probability be like the past. But, all past scientific theories have been shown to be wrong. Therefore, any given new theory is most likely to be false.
18. Neville would point out that this is the meaning of Jesus’ commands to “Put off the old man” and to “Let the dead bury their dead,” and to not put new wine in old skins.
19. I’ve frequently pointed out the symbolism of the Dancer, from “The Babysitting Bachelor as Aryan Avatar: Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty, Part 1” (here) to most recently my review of Derek Marlowe’s A Dandy in Aspic, “Passing the Buck: Spy, Dandy, Übermensch,” here.
21. And how to handle the attempted counter-counter-revolution: “I think this is why he’s been behaving extra-Presidential ever since he won. In order to ensconce himself in the minds of many people as possible as the incumbent, in order to deter game-playing with possible recounts, the Electoral College actual vote, and potential coups. In other words, he’s behaving like he’s already President to dare them to try any of those shenanigans.” Commenter at Unz.com, here.
22. I can’t help but recall here Thomas Mann’s portrait of a deranged inter-war poet, a sort of Stefan George crossed with Ernst Jünger, whose sole work, self-published on fine paper and exquisitely bound, reimagines Christ as a sort of Bismarck, issuing various orders of the day and ends thus: “Soldiers! I deliver to you to plunder — the world!”
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